After international news showed architect’s drawings of the thoughtless shopping center scheduled to replace one of Istanbul’s last green parks, people outside Turkey started wondering how much excess power the country’s developers might be exercising over the country’s democratic processes. And if developers could pull such strings, who else could?
Now a recent kerfuffle has exposed that the state might be one of the developers.
Last week Istanbul police made dawn arrests to bring in for questioning “scores” of people who included three sons of Erdoğan ministers, an Erdoğan-party mayor, three “lions of construction,” “the general manager of Turkey’s largest housing developer, the partly state-owned Emlak Konut GYO” and the boss of a government-owned bank; one of the construction tycoons “recently made headlines with controversial mega-projects and works for the notoriously opaque state housing agency (Toki),” according to the Guardian. At the time of the arrests, the accusations in the air were wild and wonderful: hoarding millions in shoeboxes, bribery, building illegally, illegally converting nature preserves into development land, money laundering, “dubious gold deals with Iran,” reported Süddeutsche.de.
Less than a day later, the heads of five Istanbul police departments involved in the arrests, which Süddeutsche.de described as an “anti-corruption fishing expedition,” had lost their jobs. The decapitated police departments included Financial Crimes, Organized Crime and Smuggling units, and the unsonned cabinet ministers were Interior, Economics and Environment & City Planning, according to the Guardian.
Süddeutsche.de said Gezi Park protesters had always claimed that large construction projects in Istanbul were corrupt and used to make “the big Reibach.” If you had connections to Mr. Erdoğan’s conservative-religious AKP (“Party for Justice and Development”).
The arrests and police firings may have been an outward symptom of a fight for influence between Mr. Erdoğan’s associates and the associates of a Turkish cleric named Fethullah Gülen, “who directs an international religious community from his U.S. exile,” warned Süddeutsche.de. The two religious groups used to “dominate” Mr. Erdoğan’s ruling conservative-religious AK party. Mr. Gülen could help persuade voters, while Mr. Erdoğan could protect Mr. Gülen’s business interests, wrote Spiegel.de, which included media outlets, a bank, schools and training centers that have helped millions of high school students pass college entrance exams (“repetitories” in German, dershane in Turkish). In any case, the increased international attention on Turkish news and better information about Turkish politics and business is welcome.
The strange variety in the accusations against the arrestees might make more sense were they to indicate pieces of networks once used for circumventing the old embargoes against Iran:
“The flight into conspiracy theories doesn’t change the fact that it still must be clarified whether the manager of the state-owned Halkbank helped an Iranian businessman with money laundering, with the sons of the Interior and Economy Ministers allegedly assisting in various ways. Washington [D.C.] people had been taking negative notice for some time of the fact that Turkey was using detour routes to pay for its gas and oil deliveries from Iran ever since sanctions had excluded Teheran from the interbank system. Again and again, couriers with suitcases full of gold were spotted in the Istanbul airport. That’s why it’s remarkable that Ankara people are denying they knew anything about these questionable activities, long ago.” –Süddeutsche.de article
“Suitcases full of gold” must be a metaphor in the Turkish press.
Update on 22 Dec 2013: Mr. Erdoğan has now fired 70 top police and justice officials. He might be not only firing them but having some arrested as well.
FAZ.net concluded its update with an assessment of Mr. Erdoğan’s current situation:
“[Mr.] Erdoğan, who has held this office since March 2003, has taken a hit. Presumably he would still win any election that took place now. But the once-charismatic prime minister has turned into a table-thumping/blustering choleric. For him, democracy means having elections; liberal values such as protecting minorities are not part of his idea of democracy. More and more people are objecting to the fact that [Mr.] Erdoğan is acting as the nation’s morals police, who wants to tell people what to eat and how many children to have. He’s lost from view the fact that the AKP, which has been ruling without a coalition partner since 2002, owes its rise among other things to the image of being a ‘clean party.’ The kemalist parties that ruled Turkey until 2002 were voted out of office for, among other things, corrupt business practices that drove Turkey to the edge of bankruptcy in 2001. In recent years, corruption around [Mr.] Erdoğan has begun spreading like a cancer again. The Gülen movement is ‘clean’ though, says [Mr.] Arinc. The Erdoğan vs. Gülen war will continue.”
Update on 24 Dec 2013: Spiegel.de wrote that Mr. Erdoğan has threatened to break the hands of troublemakers and that more journalists were imprisoned in Turkey than in any other country.
Update on 07 Jan 2013: Last night Mr. Erdoğan fired hundreds of police, 350 in Ankara alone, according to the Dogan press agency and CNN Turk, said Süddeutsche.de. Those relieved of their duties included police officers and 80 higher-ranked officials in the divisions of Financial Crimes, Organized Crime and the anti-smuggling authority.
Update on 08 Jan 2013: Mr. Erdoğan removed from their posts Turkey’s deputy police chief and the police chiefs of 15 provinces, including the capital city of Ankara. On Tuesday night his party submitted draft legislation to give the government more power in naming judges and prosecutors. The E.U. commission is concerned, the Financial Times said, “that government moves to remove, reassign and fire police officers and investigators ‘could undermine the current investigations and capacity of the judiciary and the police to investigate matters in an independent manner'” in Turkey.
(RYE bochh, rebb ochh.)